Iraq in the past, Iraq today

27 July 2023 | Eaglewatch in Iraq, Great job, Stories of survivors

The ISIS rebellion, which in 2014 turned into a regular civil war in Iraq and Syria, lasted for nearly 5 years. But we should place an asterisk here, as it is difficult to speak about the end of the war with an organization that lacks centralized structures, and whose main goal is to spread terror.

The best evidence of the ongoing real threat should be the fact that at the end of June, Iraqi anti-terrorism forces dismantled several large Islamic State cells. While searching their hideouts, they found evidence indicating that ISIS planned attacks in the United Kingdom. They want to target some public gathering, and they plan to carry out an attack on a large scale.

I am far from trying to trigger panic here. Hopefully, the intelligence services in Iraq and Europe have already learnt to counter threats more effectively and we will never hear about the execution of these threats. The British side has been informed about the discoveries of the Iraqi services and has been placed on high alert.

However, in this article, I won’t be focusing on the danger associated with ISIS activities. Instead, I would like to talk a little bit about how the situation of the victims of the mentioned rebellion has changed over the past years, as well as the changes occurring within Iraq itself. We need to remember that Iraq has been torn by wars for several decades. International conflicts as well as civil wars have taken place there. Such massive destabilization has had a profound impact on every aspect of its residents’ lives.

How was it in 2016, and how is it today?

I traveled to Iraq for the first time in July 2016. When I write these words, I realize that 7 years have passed since that trip. Quite a chunk of time. I was there for the last time three weeks ago. Together with Bartek and Szymon, we went on a week-long trip, during which we visited several newly opened workplaces, among other things. For the first time in our history, a relatively large, three-person team from the Eaglewatch crew visited Iraq at the same time. Only Darek remained in Poland. I’ll write about these recently opened small businesses a bit later. Now I would like to describe the changes I have observed over these past years.

First and foremost, let’s touch upon a very important matter: security. Up until 2020, there were military checkpoints on all roads between larger cities in northern Iraq. Soldiers meticulously checked everyone passing through. Sometimes you could drive through right away, while other times you had to show your passport and explain your purpose and destination. Checkpoints were also often set up at intersections of major roads. Currently, there are significantly fewer of them, and although they are still manned by soldiers, passport checks have become rare. Another important issue are Iraqi airports. For years there has been thorough screening over there of all individuals entering the departure hall, both in terms of luggage and vehicle checks. I haven’t seen such a system anywhere in Europe, but it’s not burdensome in any way. It only means you need to arrive at the airport a bit earlier.

Another significant point is infrastructure. Here one can also observe substantial changes between what could be observed seven years ago and how things look today. For many years, traveling even on main roads connecting major cities would turn your stomach upside down. Abrupt maneuvers and weaving through potholes to avoid losing a wheel were the norm. Ruts formed from the heat-melted asphalt caused by thousands of trucks sometimes made it better to drive on the side rather than on the road. Driving 150 kilometers could sometimes take several hours. Now it is much better. Many new roads have been built, and travel time has been significantly reduced. Of course, this largely applies to larger cities and national roads. In the countryside, things remain somewhat unchanged. Well, that’s a good thing too.

However, what hasn’t changed as far as the roads are concerned are those terrible concrete speed bumps. Whoever came up with them should be punished by having to drive over them for eternity. Our Polish speed bumps are merely a child’s play compared to the humps that emerge in the most bizarre places in Iraq. You can’t just slow down and gently go over them. You practically have to stop the car and slowly crawl over them to keep your car’s suspension intact. If these were only placed in built-up areas or other critical locations, it might make more sense. But these speed bumps can be found on long stretches of road where there are no buildings at all. Sudden braking due to an obstacle appearing on the road is a constant element of every journey on Iraqi roads. More than once, my head has had a close encounter with the ceiling because the driver didn’t notice such a barrier, and after a short flight and a hard landing, we the car needed to be inspected to see if it was fit to continue driving.

I’ve complained a little about the roads, so let me complain a bit more about electricity. In Poland, power cuts do occur, but they usually last a few minutes or occasionally a few hours. Perhaps in some regions of the country they happen more often than in others. They are usually linked to extreme weather conditions. However, in Iraq, they are a daily occurrence, especially in the summer. Sometimes there is electricity for only 3-4 hours a day. One might say it’s not the end of the world, but imagine being outside where the temperature reaches 40-degree Celsius. Every gust of wind feels like blowing a hairdryer set to maximum speed over your face. Fans or air conditioning are essential to survive such heat. However, these devices run on electricity, so you can only use them for those few hours each day. And it can get worse. Food stored in a fridge that keeps going off turns bad very quickly. Doing laundry or cooking becomes a gamble. Will it work, or will the power go out? These might seem like simple things, but living in such conditions every day isn’t easy. Has anything changed in this regard over the years? Not much. The outages that were there before are still present. Their intensity remains practically the same. This is mainly due to poor infrastructure that is susceptible to high temperatures, and insufficient power production.

A lot has also changed… for the worse.

What I have described above is a kind of introduction to much more significant issues that I will discuss shortly. I have written about them to give you some understanding about the everyday life of Iraqi people. Some might consider these matters trivial, but they contribute to people feeling tired or even frustrated. I could list many more of such issues. Currently, much of the world is grappling with high inflation. Iraq is not an exception, although according to an official data there is currently a “mere” 6% inflation rate. However, in the past, it could reach double digits for several consecutive years. In practice, prices in Iraq are rising at a very high pace. Let me give you a few examples of products and their current prices:

• 1 liter of oil – 14 PLN (3,5 USD/EUR)
• 1 liter of milk – 10 PLN (2,5 USD/EUR)
• 1 kg of cheese (yellow) – 40 PLN (10 USD/EUR)
• 1 kg of rice – 8 PLN (2 USD/EUR)
• 1 kg of sugar – 8 PLN (2 USD/EUR)
• 1 kg of poultry meat (chicken breast) – 20 PLN (5 USD/EUR)
• Shower gel (400 ml) – 24 PLN (6 USD/EUR)
• Diapers (pack of 40) – 40 PLN (10 USD/EUR)

In many cases, prices are similar to ours. There are things that are cheaper or a bit more expensive. It’s worth noting that the typical salary in Iraq is currently between 1300 and 1800 Polish zlotys after conversion. And that is if someone manages to find a job. Unemployment in Iraq is around 16-17%, and among young people (up to 25 years old), it reaches 25%. In 2016, wages were much lower, ranging from 700 to 1000 Polish zlotys. However, prices in shops were also lower, and in some cases significantly lower.

How to start from scratch in such conditions?

Here, I will address the matters that from our point of view are the most important. I’m referring, of course, to the fate of the ISIS victims. How has their situation changed over these few years? From 2014 to 2020, humanitarian organizations from all around the world operated in Iraq. They provided aid mainly in camps for internally displaced people, inhabited by tens of thousands of families. However, COVID changed everything. One after another, institutions and foundations suspended, and later completely closed, their branches. These days, those that still exist operate on a smaller scale. The camps have turned into small towns, and although they still maintain their official status, life inside them looks completely different than it did a few years ago. Since around 2018, families have been returning to the towns they fled from in 2014 because of ISIS. It might seem like a positive prognosis and a sign of normalization. However, in their hometowns, difficult challenges await them. True, there’s a hospital being built somewhere, a new road elsewhere, and a clinic or school in another place. But as one looks deeper, it turns out to be just a drop in the ocean of needs. As usual, individual persons or families cannot expect much. They return to places where there’s no work, they look at their destroyed homes, and all they can do is try to survive. It’s not easy at all, as the local authorities are very slow when it comes to reconstruction, and the years spent in camps have heavily affected their residents’ mental health. Low self-esteem, sometimes learned helplessness, and sometimes just the lack of prospects, make it very difficult for them to start everything anew.

I always try to end with something positive. So, I will mention the people who, despite adversities, manage to find their way forward. During our last trip in late June and July, we visited several workplaces that we opened this year. Bartek had the opportunity to have his eyes checked by an optometrist. We also briefly visited a peach plantation and an internal medicine office, and in the evening, we had dinner at a fish fryers. We also did some small shopping at a local store. All of these business were established in collaboration with Caritas Poland as part of the “Rodzina Rodzinie” (Family for Family) project. Since last year, we have jointly launched 31 such small businesses, and in total, including those we opened earlier, they amount to over 130. Of course, it is still not much if we look at the entirety of needs, but it is over a hundred families in need less. In many towns, the economic situation is better than it was 2-3 years ago. That is encouraging. It means that many people manage to adapt to this new post-war reality.

We don’t have control over the political or economic situation. We will not improve security or repair infrastructure, even though we undertook such actions to a limited extent in the past and continue to do so. We cannot change everyone’s lives, as it’s beyond our capabilities. However, for someone, we will rebuild a home; for someone else, we can provide employment or support a farm that generates income. We can offer individual and targeted assistance to improve the lives of people somewhere out there in the world. Our role in all of this is also to level the playing field for those who, through no fault of their own, could not progress in their lives. They lost precious years and fell behind. The societal rift that could develop in the future might lead to the marginalization of war victims and worsen their situation even further. That is why we will keep striving to help them.

Author: Dawid Czyż

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This

Share This

Share this post with your friends!